Most-awarded country group Rascal Flatts finally gave in to demand from fans this year with a collection of Christmas recordings titled ‘The Greatest Gift Of All’. A full album has been a long time coming, after releasing a Christmas EP all the way back in 2009. Looking at the track list, you could be forgiven for assuming they’ve played it pretty safe, packing the album full of carols with just a couple of relatively unknown tracks. But they’ve done it completely their own way, and have added some Rascal Flatts magic to a number of classics.
Gary LeVox’s voice isn’t going to be for everybody. It’s one of those ‘Marmite’ voices. I even saw a review of this album recently which described it as ‘Rascal Flatts sing the chipmunks’. Very harsh, but for all their success, the Flatts will always have a legion of people who just don’t ‘get it’. Personally, I’ve been a huge fan of the guys for years and will always regard Gary’s voice as one of the best in the genre. They have and will continue to be the Kings of harmonies in country music and nobody does it better; it’s what they’ve built their reputation on, and if that’s your kind of thing, this album will quite literally be music to your ears.
Their rendition of ‘Joy To The World’ kicks off the album with a bang in a rather unexpected style. They’ve brought in the orchestra for this one and the trumpets instantly give it that jazzy, festive, feel-good factor that we have come to know and love on Christmas albums. It’s an interesting twist on a classic with a real uplifting feel about it. They’ve certainly made it their own and that’s a brave thing to do with such a well-recognised Christmas standard. This is followed by ‘O Holy Night’ which doesn’t stray far from the original, allowing Gary’s vocal to take the limelight, backed by a piano before the strings are brought in for some melodic beauty. But ‘Deck The Halls’ mixes things up once again with a much slower arrangement than the familiar jolly, up-beat rendition, and it works a treat.
The clear stand-out on the album is ‘A Strange Way To Save The World’ which will be a new track to many. Gary, Jay and Joe Don performed it last year on CMA Country Christmas, and it was originally recorded by contemporary Christian group 4Him. I watched this performance last year and it became one of my favourite Christmas songs of all time, it really was that good. The studio recording is simply sublime and is guaranteed to give you goose bumps with the wonderful use of a string section and the signature Rascal Flatts harmonies. How this song hasn’t been given any exposure before now is just astounding.
We return to the classics soon after with ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ which is packed full of horns and electric guitars to pump the track full of life and energy. ‘Let It Snow’ is the only low point for me on the album; there’s a strange electronic vibe about it which we could have done without, and Gary’s vocal sounds like it’s had some studio alterations which we all know he doesn’t require.
‘Silent Night’ is clearly a special one for the guys, as they enlisted the help of their children. Gary’s daughter Brittany sings lead vocals on the first track with the younger children backing her. Brittany has already perfected her Dad’s vocal gymnastics by the sound of it! Then, ‘Someday At Christmas’ keeps the standard high with a stunning arrangement of a song no other country artist has covered in this year’s sudden influx of Christmas material. The likes of the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Mary J Blige have all showcased their own versions of this over the years, and the Flatts version is certainly up there with the best. So soulful, warm and catchy, this is exactly what you want from a Christmas album and it will become an instant favourite.
Sometimes, these Christmas collections can become a little tiresome when it’s the same old songs on every album. You have to credit Rascal Flatts for attempting something slightly different to set them apart from the masses, and this is an album that will certainly put smiles on many flattheads’ faces. Put this one on as you get out your decorations, it’s a great soundtrack for your festive period.